E-mail, we get e-mail.
You sought this internet link wondering what I would write today. What will you learn? You don't believe what I write so you read between the lines and then you're in the process. Or you believe you know what I'm saying, and inject yourself into the words.
What you get out of these words has as much to do with you as it does with what I put here. Words are a mirror of the soul. Yours.
It would really make me happy if you read what I wrote. But the thing about authorship is I don't get that luxury. No matter what I write, someone will be certain I'm losing my mind / killing myself / a prophet / a hack /in crisis / bored / needing to get laid.
None of those things are true. Well. Okay. The last one is always true.
Hemingway killed himself because he couldn't write anymore. Yes, alcoholism. But it was ego.
The nobel prize winner couldn't write like one anymore so he took the backdoor out.
I will never commit suicide. Ever. If anyone says I have, look for a murderer. Search the vicinity for renegade bull moose. Look for hoof marks on my head. Search for evidence of rabid wildebeest or electric eels.
A few reasons why:
1) I'm chicken.
2) What the fuck. I get to be alive for less than a century, and the universe exists for billions of years. Why should I want to go back to nonexistence when that's the way it is for 99.9999999999999999999999999999999999999% of all of time?
3) What point could I possibly make by checking out that would be remembered, oh, say 452,544,981 years from now? Even Jesus won't last that long.
4) I hate not knowing how it ends.
5) Nobody near Alpha Centauri gives a shit
6) The probability of my existing is almost zero. I beat incredible odds to be here. My life probably means something, even if it pisses me off occasionally.
When I die I do not wish to be buried or cremated. I would like to be mounted.
I would like to be placed in a diorama at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. I would like the diorama to incarnate the scene of a rogue elephant bursting into the offices of a high-priced software consulting firm and killing all the executive team during a board meeting. I could be suspended in the air with the elephant's trunk curled around me while it breaks me over the head of the corporate secretary.
If the curator complains that elephants don't fit in modern elevators and so the scene is invalid, then I would like to be tossed into the Tongass National Forest and torn apart by wolves.
I hate the idea of suicide but I can feel why you've thought about it. I can understand the hopelessness. The universe is so large, what's to be gained by one tiny corpuscle of life continuing or dying? I can feel that and I can imagine it could be so bad you'd take it from a thought to actually moving your arms and legs to make everything stop.
From Mars, Earth seems uninhabited. Who's to know? Who's to care?
How about this: 7) People who commit suicide are assholes to the rest of us.
Somebody loves you. Somebody is me. If you weren't here, I wouldn't want the sun to rise. I'd want New York to crumble. I'd want a tsunami to wash the earth clean of all air-breathing life. There would be no book I would want to read. Comedians couldn't make me laugh. I would never enjoy another movie. Flowers would smell like ice.
But I would still live. I'd live in absolute misery until I died of old age. Every morning I'd wake up wondering what you might have done that day. Every night I'd wonder what story you might have told me about your day. Some days you'd be angry and hurt at everything. And some days your eyes would light up and I would feel your excitement across empty space.
8) As possible as it is for bad luck, it's always equally possible that something good will happen.
I can write about my father's death a thousand times and the pain of it won't go away. I've been around other dying people. Both grandmothers. My grandfather. My uncle. A young cousin who didn't get through puberty before a brain tumor nailed him a week after my wedding. Lots of coworkers. One who died rushing to the office.
Saw all of them them a few days before death, and then at the funeral. I know what dying people look like. I know how it is when you love them and you see them dying and you know there's absolutely no power you have been granted to help them.
This may be a blessing, this horrid personality-altering grief. I would not be me having never lived it. It is a part of life I haven't been sheltered from. As a result, I am completely in touch with my end. I imagine myself in the coffin, stripped clean of blood and internal organs, lips perpetually pursed with the embalmer's knitting. My body will look like that when I leave it if I'm not torn apart by wolves.
I have tried putting American cheese on my hot apple pie. I have tried cheddar. Who came up with this stupid idea?
Nutmeg belongs on apple pie. Whipped cream. Cinnamon. The leaves should be orange outside. Someone should scream "touchdown" from the other room when the fork hits the crust. Apple pie eaters should be wearing sweaters. Their cheeks should be red with the first autumn breeze.
Someone who loves you should watch you take the first bite. They should take part in your delight, clasped hands to their chest they say, "Do you like it?" and you can only nod because you cannot speak while everything apple pie is seeping into you.
This is apple pie.
Note: cheese plays no part in the process.
There's a place I go to talk to my father. It's on the top of a tall mountain near my home. It's next to a large oak tree that's been through a lot of history. It survived forest fires. It survived the gold rush. The great earthquake of 1906 and the one in 1989.
I don't say the tree has "seen" a lot of history, because it doesn't have eyes. It probably doesn't even know history is going by, just that there's water near its roots and sun and air on its leaves.
The tree is at a peaceful place visited by mountain bikers and hikers. Horseback riders stop under the shade of the tree and negotiate direction with their mounts.
From there you can see the Mount Hamilton range and the city of San Jose below you. The air is clean and the sky is always deep blue. In the winter there might even be patches of snow and thin layers of ice covering the flowing meltwater.
When my father died I started cycling regularly to that place. The trail goes on farther, but I usually stop at the tree and think about my dad and my other lost relatives and friends. I've taken other mountain bikers there. They call it "the tree ride" because we stop so far from the end of the trail they presume it's some sort of indication of my lack of stamina.
"Today we're JUST going to do the tree ride?" they say, as if I've given up serious biking.
They don't know I'm stopping to talk to my dead ancestors.
Sometimes I bring things and put them at the base of the tree. Other times I find things there.
Recently, I brought a woman to the tree. It had been a long hike in the hot sun, and she wasn't used to the kind of heat you feel high in the dry mountains over San Jose. I'd brought water, but it was barely enough for her. As we weren't on bikes we had the long downhill ahead of us, so I suggested we rest under the tree.
After a little while we heard rustling in the woods around us. At this time of year it's very dry and the deer come in from the distant mountains in search of food. Mountain lions follow the deer, and so one wonders if the movement in the leaves might be a ravenous cat rather than a hungry doe.
On my bike, I'd hardly give it a second thought. I'd just ride away. But on foot, I had time to contemplate the situation. It seemed like the right thing to do to talk to my Dad like I always do. At the minimum, the voices would alert whatever wildlife that was around that there were people in the vicinity so they wouldn't be startled.
I introduced the girl to my dad, and she told him she was happy to meet him. I was a little worried she might think it somewhat weird of me to be talking to trees and the sky, but she let on she was totally cool with sacred places. She had her own, and she was honored to have been brought to mine.
We sat on some tree roots, and after a while the rustling in the forest grew louder. Then I saw the deer nibbling on some leaves. Eventually, because there's never just one deer somewhere, a couple others joined it and it began to feel we were surrounded by them.
We spoke in normal tones, and the deer didn't go away. These were nearly domesticated deer, used to foraging in the Los Gatos suburbs, unafraid of chained dogs or people banging garbage can lids.
"Does your father ever talk back to you?" my friend asked me.
I told her he did all the time as the largest of the deer raised its head and looked me in the eyes.
I come from a long line of angry people. Think of Rodney Dangerfield. We laughed at him because everyone was out to get him and he knew how to articulate that angst. We laughed at him because he was over-the-top paranoid.
But so were we.
Sometimes I don't know how to communicate if I have nothing to complain about. I invent complaints. I make them outrageous. I envision foul punishments for people who have wronged me. Sometimes I have been actually wronged, and sometimes I dream up something to keep myself busy.
If you were to say, "But that didn't REALLY happen, did it?" I would say it did. Because if it did happen, I would never lie. And if it didn't, I can't break character or the joke is ruined.
There's really no way for you to know.
On Monday I got an e-mail from the publisher of a magazine to which I made a submission. He gave me his phone number. He said, "Call me at your convenience."
I didn't want to seem anxious so I waited a day. Then I called him. He was out at the gym. I left him a message.
He called me back. He said, "I want to know about you. YOU as a writer."
I told him what I could. I told him what I thought. I figured he wanted something for the "author's bio" section.
Then he told me he wasn't publishing my story. Goodbye.
I hung up. I'd just been rejected by phone.
"I want you to read a book."
I told her I had piles of books people wanted me to read. I can't bring myself to spend that much time sitting in one place to read all the books people give me. And if I read all the books people gave me, I'd never have time to read a book I wanted to read.
"Ok, so don't read the book," she said, smirking.
"I'll read the book."
"No, that's ok."
Of course I did what every predictable male does in light of unabashed female manipulation -- I took her straight to the bookstore. "I'll get me the book. I'll have it finished by the end of the week."
She bought me a copy of "Tuesdays With Morrie".
"You've got to be kidding me," I said, my heart sinking. This was very close to the last thing I wanted to read, perhaps second only to the uniform tax code and the user's manual to a John Deere wheat thresher.
"You said you would." She had me in girl lock. Using my own forced confession against me. It would never stand in court, but this wasn't court. Out in the field people get mamed and tortured all the time.
"Gimme. I'll have it finished by Tuesday."
After she left I read Tuesdays With Morrie. It's a nice book. Kindly packaged tripe. Mass-market heart-tugging pablum about one over-achiever's confrontation with death. Once the death was dispensed with, he went back to real life. Thank you very much.
If Mitch Albom had taken one thing seriously he wrote in that book, he wouldn't still be appearing on ESPN every fricking night, covering every sports event in the universe, spending all his time making money instead of becoming a human activist like his teacher. Now he's got a writing career to add to his TV career. If anything, the success of "Tuesday's With Morrie" reinforced his career-centric lifestyle. Money. It's all about money to these people. They want your sweat, blood, and psychic energy.
What I got from "Tuesday's With Morrie" is what I used to get from the company I was at for ten years. That company "stressed balance". We were supposed to balance working life with family life. We were encouraged by "the company" to take vacation. They improved health benefits, adding mental health benefits -- stress relief classes so folks who were working 80-hour weeks could decompress with professionals.
And it was all a crock of shit. Because the truth was that we all believed in teamwork. In the team. In being a team member. There is no "I" in team.
So when the team needs you, you are there. You are not "there" when you are taking vacation. You are not "there" when you are out sick. You are not "there" when you are at your children's little league games.
And we were so worried about letting each other down that we viewed taking advantage of "balance" as a way to weaken the team. It was a great recruitment vehicle. But after you were on board -- it all went away.
The company knew we had no intention of becoming balanced people. If they thought we would, they'd have never suggested it. They knew who they were dealing with.
We would say, "Look at Jim over there. He hasn't taken a day of vacation in six years," and we would mean it as the greatest of compliments. We'd say, "Look at Mary -- she had a baby and was back to work five days after she got out of the hospital," and we would mean that we were going to have her canonized. We'd say, "Look at Bob, he broke both legs in a car accident while speeding home from work and he was still attending meetings by cell phone from the operating table while they were putting the pins in his legs."
Winners don't quit, and quitters don't win. You're either on the team or you're not. If you want to succeed, realize you're going to miss a couple birthday parties on the way to providing your family a 70' yacht you'll never ride in. Realize you're going to miss soccer games and their first dates. Realize the only intimacy you're ever going to have is with a whore at a Tokyo hostess bar -- because you absolutely require your family to live in a $5,000,000 house in the Los Altos Hills.
"Tuesday's With Morrie" is a nice book. But it's bullshit. Death comes to us all. Plenty of time to rest when you're dead. The business of America is business. The sooner people get that into their whiny heads -- the sooner people get off their asses and back to work -- the sooner we can fix the fucking trade deficit and go back to being the rulers of planet earth.
I was two inches from telling her that. I had my finger on the cell phone.
Then I thought about Rick Kopeck's funeral.
The last time I saw Rick alive he was dashing out to get into his Ford Explorer to get to San Jose airport so he wouldn't miss his plane to New Orleans for the big sales kickoff. They invited him to come at the last minute and give a presentation. He had to hurry, the meeting was almost over and most of the sales people had already gone missing in the various red light districts of the Big Easy. He'd have to hurry, because by the time he got there, there would only be a handful of people with enough patience to listen to his pitch.
Three days later I was at his funeral. He'd had a heart attack at 32 years old. Had a heart attack while driving 60MPH on route 101 near Morgan Hill.
Rick was a team player to the end. He didn't make the meeting, but we forgave him at his funeral. After all, we knew he'd have been there if he hadn't died first.
Once I went to Las Vegas to practice psychokinesis with a bunch of psychics. I learned you can mentally influence dice rolls at craps tables and win lots of money. If you don't believe me, try it yourself. Get 12 psychics and stand around a craps table. Knock yourself out. Money flows to you like the common cold.
I have friends who are using the power of Remote Viewing to win the big ticket lottery. They haven't won the $200,000,000 yet, but they've won a year's pay for one of them.
Using psychic power to win money absolutely works. They want me to join their team.
"Come on," they say. "It's free money. What's wrong with you?"
They think all kinds of weird things about me, these people who are trying to win the lottery with psi.
I say to them, "If it works, why would you do it? Don't you see how illogical it is? I mean, if God came to earth do you think he'd be using his infinite power to shorten his wait in the half-price line on Broadway for tickets to The Producers?"
They say I don't get it. I'm not on the team.
I think of Rick. He was on the team. Do this mental experiment. You're in Rick's car 20 seconds before he loses consciousness.
You ask him -- "Is this what you wanted in life? Are you content dying in your SUV rushing to catch a plane for a work meeting that will turn out meaningless?"
I will not let money kill me. I will not die for it. I will not suffer for it. I will not let you convince me the acquisition of wealth has any purpose for which God will love me more. I will not let you convince me I am unhappy otherwise. I will not let you make me suicidal. I will not feel terrible because you're richer than me. I will not accept your disdain because I can't send my children to schools as expensive as you can afford.
Your goals have no place in my life. Do not count on me. Do not expect me to relent. I am not on money's team.
Because I am on your team.
The only constant in the lives of all known humans is love.
But you have always known that.
What you do not know is that I love you. I love you now and I love you forever. I have never unloved a person. I do not believe its possible to unlove someone. I believe that because I believe time is an illusion. I believe a loved one can make you angry and you can dislike the direction they have taken with their life, but when you love someone you love their soul, and that's permanent and immutable. The moment you loved them has always existed and always will. There is no end to it.
So when I say "I love you," I mean it's not possible to stop. I mean it goes on for as long as I do, and then, some time after as well.
In this life, in this world, I am on your side.
Be happy, my little apple pie.